Boomer's Paradise

Ah, those were the days. Rockin' with Alan Hodges and His Nite Owls. Cruising your T-Bird to the Frosted Scotchman. Catching fouls at Bears Stadium and swilling Duffy's soda pop. The names weren't nationally known, but the ethos certainly was: '50s Denver, like most other urban centers across the States, was caught up in a new burst of popular culture that was spurred by new sounds, new technologies and a booming postwar economy. Though these experiences were universally American, those indigenous names and places were what gave Denver its character back then, names and places now given new life in The Way We Were: Denver¹s Fabulous 䡶s, a locally produced montage of memories airing Monday on KRMA-TV/Channel 6.

"It's not a documentary -- this is really a reminiscence piece," says Rocky Mountain PBS writer/producer Trux Simmons, who put together the program -- a combination of oral history, timely soundtrack and visual images -- as a followup to a previous piece on the '40s. "I don't maintain that any of the stories are completely factual," he adds, noting that some of them may have been embellished over time. But, boy, did he have fun culling through them.

"One of the things happening in the country and in Denver was the discovery of the teenager as an entity," Simmons says. Using the advent of youth culture as a focal point, he decided to tell his '50s story from the teen viewpoint. "We called up high school alumni associations, invited in some graduates of that era, gave them some Pepsi and pretzels and asked them to reminisce." Reminisce they did: A patchwork of people and places emerged in their conversations, from the R&B joints of Five Points to movie-theater row on 16th Street; from the KIMN radio studio at Sloan Lake to Mammoth Garden, home of Monday-night wrestling bouts. "The synergy between those people sitting around the table was exciting," Simmons says. But sorting out their memories was just the beginning of his job.

Next Simmons had to match images to the reminiscences -- not an easy task, he notes, considering that "the Colorado Historical Society does not have tons of photos of wrestling matches at Mammoth Gardens." Instead, he tracked down the son of a pro wrestler from those times who'd kept a scrapbook. And when the antics of KIMN radio's DJ Morgan "Pogo Poge" White came up again and again (including White's infamous week of broadcasting from a downtown Zales jewelry store display window filled with snakes), Simmons knew he had to interview the personality.

"I drove 900 miles to a ranch in Utah for that interview," Simmons says. "But it was worth going for the snake-pit story alone."

On the other hand, some images were ripe for the picking -- in particular, the astounding, you-are-there shots taken in the early '50s of the demolition of the Grant Smelter smokestack, then Denver's tallest structure. And some of the talking heads he relied on were almost impossible to leave out, such as master memory-monger Gene Amole, the longtime Denver media fixture and Rocky Mountain News columnist who's often taken to task by his readers for living in the past. "But Amole is Mr. '50s," Simmons asserts. "Just look at the gamut he ran during that era -- from wrestling-ring announcer to television newsman and even radio-station owner." We're all the luckier for Amole's lively insights.

Though Simmons included some darker moments -- memories of duck-and-cover drills and the polio scare -- he's mostly sewn together a quick but pleasant spin through some of the decade's lighter moments. So, go, Daddio. Tune in Monday.

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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd